Shepherd Center Begins the Final Stage of its Clinical Trials for Robotics-Assisted Walking Device
Shepherd Center is the lead clinical partner in the critical final stage of trials for a robotics-assisted walking device that could improve the lives of people with limited mobility caused by spinal cord or brain injury, stroke or multiple sclerosis.
Developer Parker Hannifin Corp. describes the exoskeleton device – called Indego – as a “powered orthosis worn around the waist and legs that allows individuals with spinal cord injuries to stand and walk.”
Clare Hartigan describes it as revolutionary.
“People who haven’t seen it don’t believe it,” says Hartigan, PT, MPT, Shepherd Center project manager and clinical research coordinator for Indego.
Hartigan recently watched a 19-year-old with complete quadriplegia – someone whose motion is limited to only being able to bend his elbows and extend his wrists – use Indego to walk for more than an hour at Shepherd Center. The participant also has no ability to move his hands, trunk or legs.
“He covered one-third of a mile,” Hartigan says. “He walked inside, he got on and off an elevator, he walked outside around our garden, he walked up ramps and over grass and a sidewalk.
“I have been a PT at Shepherd Center for 25 years,” she adds. “There is no other way you could possibly have a person with such a high level of complete spinal cord injury able to walk as far and on as many different surfaces, other than with the help of Indego.” Indego has huge potential for improving the health and mobility options for people with spinal cord injury and other disorders such as stroke, brain injury and multiple sclerosis, Hartigan notes.
While a person with quadriplegia would need assistance managing the device, it’s light enough, at 26 pounds, for someone with paraplegia to put it on in their wheelchair or wear it in the car and walk without assistance.
Pete Anziano, a Shepherd Center peer support liaison, is also a trial subject for Indego.
Anziano has had paraplegia since he sustained a spinal cord injury in a motorcycle accident 10 years ago. He says exoskeleton technology has come a long way since he tried a different device four years ago.
“Indego is lighter weight. It’s modular so you can stow it in an overhead compartment of an airplane, and it’s very intuitive to use,” Anziano says.
“I could see myself using it as a supplement to the wheelchair life, a way to get up and out of my chair to facilitate activities of daily living like standing up to do the dishes,” he says. And he imagines using it to do things like going to sporting events and standing up to watch his son’s games.
The current clinical trials are expected to lead to FDA approval for Indego sales in the United States in late 2015, says Stefan Bircher, global market development manager for Parker Hannifin.
The device could go into production immediately upon approval, Bircher says. “It’s very stable,” he adds. “The technology is delivering what’s expected.”
People interested in using Indego should know that there are criteria to use the device such as healthy skin and bones, good range of motion and the ability to be upright without getting dizzy, Hartigan says. The weight limit for the device is 250 pounds.
“The big message for our patients right now is to take care of yourself so that when this technology is available, you’re in good shape to take advantage of it,” she says.
By David Simpson
Photos Courtesy of Parker Hannifin
In the media
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 935 inpatients, 541 day program patients and more than 7,300 outpatients each year.